Archive | July, 2012

Sometimes arts really do become lost

31 Jul

When I came across the following article in the December 1930 issue of Popular Mechanics, I was intrigued:


The world is about to list another lost art, one that came into being less than half a century ago and yet is doomed to pass within a few short years. For Rudolph Blaschka, maker of the famous glass models of flowering plants in the Ware collection at Harvard University, has passed his seventy-third birthday and feels that he has few more working years ahead of him. And there is no one else in the world who knows how to make glass flowers like his. Many master workers have tried to duplicate the products of the art started by Leopold Blaschka, father of Rudolph, forty-five years ago. All of them have failed. For a Blaschka mode is as the flower itself; root, stalk and bloom are there in faithful detail.

Just recently, there arrived from the Blaschka studio at Hosterwitz, near Dresden, Germany, a consignment of twenty-five specimens representing the entire product of six years’ work by the artist-glassworker.    Perhaps another genius, capable of carrying on the work, will rise alter Rudolph Blaschka has passed on. He has promised to leave behind complete written details of how the glass is fused upon the tiny wires and how the coloring is attained. But Louis Bierweiler, who is devoting his life to the preservation and cataloging of the collection, as the Blaschkas have to it creation, points out that even with this detailed information at his command, it will take a most extraordinary person to add to the collection specimens worthy of a place beside the work of the two masters.

However, it turns out that was correct. The glass flowers of the Wade collection have become famous and would certainly on my “must see” list if I was visiting the American Cambridge. (If I was visiting the British Cambridge, I’d want to see my father’s college).

This from Wikipedia:

The Glass Flowers, formally The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, is a famous collection of highly-realistic glass botanical models at the Harvard Museum of Natural History at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

They were made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka from 1887 through 1936 at their studio in Hosterwitz, Germany, near Dresden. They were commissioned by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, founder of Harvard’s Botanical Museum, for the purpose of teaching botany, and financed by Goodale’s former student, Mary Lee Ware and her mother, Elizabeth Ware. Over 3000 models, of 847 different plant species, were made.

According to Rossi-Wilcox, the question people most often ask after seeing them is, “‘Where are the glass flowers?’ Because nobody can believe these are made of glass.”


The ethics committee might be a trifle unhappy

30 Jul

From February 1931 Popular Mechanics:

Electric Shock Proves Effect of Punishment

Through the development of an intricate piece of apparatus, the influence of punishment on learning, especially among children, can now be measured. The machine, invented by Dr. M. C. Barlow, of the psychology department of the University of Utah, seems to verify the truth of the adage. “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” The apparatus  is used to determine the effect of electric shock in learning mirror tracing, the shock being being “punishment” which is meted out when a mistake is made. The student gazes at a star-shaped maze in a mirror placed in front of him and above the star, and attempts to guide a metal stylus through the quarter-inch-deep channel of the star. If the stylus touches certain points, a distinctly unpleasant electric shock is transmitted. The conclusion reached from the experiments was that “mild punishment brings about a decreased rate in visual sensory-motor learning, but increases the accuracy.”

  • Apparatus for Measuring the Effect of Punishment on Children; the Subject is Trying to Guide a Stylus through a Star-Shaped Channel, Each Error Resulting in an Electric Shock.

Franklin’s Lost Expedition

29 Jul

A rather romantic artist’s portrayal of “Franklin’s Last Stand” in the icy wastes of the Arctic around 1845 (from the pages of Popular Mechanics):

A somewhat less romantic version “Man Proposes, God Disposes“, by the painter Landseer in 1864:

From Wikipedia:

Franklin’s lost expedition was a doomed British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Captain Sir John Franklin that departed England in 1845. A Royal Navy officer and experienced explorer, Franklin had served on three previous Arctic expeditions, the latter two as commanding officer. His fourth and last, undertaken when he was 59, was meant to traverse the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. After a few early fatalities the two ships became icebound in Victoria Strait near King William Island in the Canadian Arctic. The entire expedition complement, including Franklin and 128 men, was lost.

This sums up the legacy of the expedition rather nicely:

The most meaningful outcome of the Franklin expedition was the mapping of several thousand miles of hitherto unsurveyed coastline by expeditions searching for Franklin’s lost ships and crew. As Richard Cyriax noted, “the loss of the expedition probably added much more [geographical] knowledge than its successful return would have done”.

A slightly larger transmitter than most

28 Jul

An interesting (especially to an electrical engineer like myself) article from September 1960 Popular Science, about building the giant transmitter for signalling to submerged submarines. This 2,000,000 Watt VLF transmitter, costing about $100,000,000, operated at wavelengths of 6 – 20 miles (9kHz – 31kHz) and allowed communicating with submarines down to about 30 feet (10m). This small installation was later replaced with the even bigger installations working in ELF regions (3-300 Hz).

Navy build world’s most powerful transmitter

All the electricity that flows into the top hat has to get back through the ground. Dirt is a poor conductor, and Maine dirt is worse than most. “We’d copper-plate the whole peninsula if we could afford it,” remarked a Navy engineer. What they did comes pretty close. They laid 2,000 miles of No. 6 bare copper wire into a screen (every crossing individually brazed) that is buried about a foot below ground. It covers the peninsula and runs down into the ocean on all three sides – seawater is a good conductor.

The monstrous antenna system gets its broadcasting signals off coaxial cables as big as sewer pipes, laid in six-foot underground tunnels. They run to the transmitter house, a concrete pillbox midway between the two antenna arrays.

It resembles a big-city radio station – until you compare sizes. There are four final amplifiers, 500,000 watts each. The vacuum tubes are two feet high. They’re installed in duplicate, with the spares always hot and ready to operate. Coils are wound of copper pipe that a plumber could use. And the transformer … The one in your TV set fits in your hand. This one looks like a water tank for the roof of an office building.

  • Star-shaped top hat for each antenna covers area big enough for 11 Pentagons.

  • Buried copper net – electrical ground for antennas – underlies most of peninsula, trails off into sea.

  • Counterweights, riding track, keep antenna cables aloft, compensate for sway in wind.

  • Gigantic counterweight – 220 tons – is filled with special dense cement. When the antennas is up, it hangs from double sheave, the cables running to the antenna above and winch below.

  • Mad-scientist rigs in copper-lined room transfer powerful signal from transmitter (on other side of right-hand wall) to antenna lead. No one can be here when station is on air.

There’s some extra information in Wikipedia (as always) here.

It could happen to anyone …

27 Jul

A style of advert you don’t see so often now, in this case from March 1940 Popular Mechanics:

  •  “NO FOREBODING of impending danger warned my wife and me as we walked home from town one night, pulling our two-year-old boy in his wagon,” writes Mr. Hoyt. “We were in the middle of a narrow footbridge, spanning a stream, when fate struck.”

  •  “SUDDENLY A WHEEL came off the wagon, hurling our baby into the black, swirling waters of the river. Luckily I had my flashlight with me. I switched it on as I jumped over the railing. Despite a thorough soaking, that light did not fail me.

  • “ITS BRIGHT, faithful beam disclosed my boy clinging to the branches of a floating tree! Those dependable ‘Eveready‘ fresh DATED batteries helped save our little boy’s life. I will never be without them in my flashlight!”

Note: An “Eveready” flashlight with “Eveready” batteries, will normally continue to burn under water.

Random phrases and their offspring (via Google)

26 Jul

I applied my standard BabelFish(News Headlines) process and generated a series of odd phrases, then image searched them.

“Baker gets her roots of circle”

  • Ollie and Quentin – a cartoon series about a seagull and a lugworm

  • Zoo Babies – a gallery of cute things

“stores to feed your addiction”

  • Certified Book Pimp – nice logo

  • Some people turn to their smartphone a little too much

  • These really look like eyes on stalks to me – actually tropical plants

“marketing with the mat board”

  • A DIY tool for scoring paper

  • An Israeli campaign on behalf of distressed youth

  • Artist Kelly Mark – a gallery of interesting artworks

“pregnant radius”

  • A pregnancy advocate

“allocated on the eavesdropping”

  • A comment on liberty

  • An interesting article on how humans evolved large brains (fat storage)

  • An H.R. time capsule – 1943 Disney staff handbook

A 1919 farming robot

25 Jul

Not what I’d call a sophisticated machine, but interesting none the less. From May 1919 Popular Science magazine:

This Farm-Hand Never Tires or Asks for Pay

It was not alive, apparently, and no human being seemed to be concealed about it, and yet the thing was seen cultivating a ten-acre farm in New jersey. Down the rows of corn it went all alone, and never bruised a blade or chopped a root. It was uncanny to anyone who had never beheld each a sight before, and even to some who had.

  • The furrows between the rows of dwarf corn are made by plows automatically steered.

It worked some nights, too. Dimly outlined in the white moonlight, it could be seen threading its way with almost human intelligence and with mathematical precision, while the farmer slept peacefully in his near-by mansion and dreamed of waving corn-tassels. Around and around the field the thing moved, around a center which it continually approached. The corn had been planted in a spiral formation about a tall post capped with a circular drum or cask.

  • This is the synmotor, the farming machine that does its work without an attendant; when it isn’t cultivating the farm it can be connected to a churn to make butter.

  • On the big drum the steering wire is wound, this drawing the cultivator ever closer to the center.

Close inspection reveals a thin wire extending to a central drum, around which the wire winds itself as the work of cultivating proceeds. That explains the spiral movement. The wire shortens itself by the same amount each trip around, and is used for steering the machine. Yes, it is machine, after all. The wire, being perfectly tempered, cannot stretoh, and an electro-coated surface protects it from rust. Its total weight is less than two pounds; yet a pull of six hundred pounds is required to break it.

The machine is a narrow tractor of special make, and it is called a “synmotor.” The engine is a compact but very efficient gasoline type of about four horsepower. To the framework can be attached any of the usual implements for cultivating the land. Plowing, hoeing, harrowing, and the any other operations are performed in the spiral path as well as in the straight course. A gang-bar, for the attachment of the implements may be used so that several rows may be cultivated at the same time.

When the synmotor is utilized on a large scale, the farm is divided into convenient ten-acre circles, each section being planted and cultivated separately. Any vacant spaces between adjacent circles can be utilized for fruit trees, buildings, or the like. For that matter, the intervening spaces can also be cultivated by merely disengaging the steering wire and utilizing the tractor in the customary manner.

For intensive farming and overlapping seasons, the accuracy of the synmotor in following a given track is of great advantage. The machine does not disturb the small plants, and it can work very closely to the rows. The working tools are spaced the exact distance between rows and do not swerve from the spiral course. Strawberries, peas and other vegetables can be cultivated with the synmotor,

With such a machine as this, the laziest man on earth can sit in the shade and fan himself while gasoline does his work.

  • Showing the works of the synmotor.

I’m sure this is an idea which has occured to many people – I’ve used it myself to compact gravel for a swimming pool. Here it turns up again in May 1960: